MONDAY / THE RIDE DOWN:
After an absolutely wonderful time spent relaxing at Hilton’s Tuscany property in Orlando, we pointed Blue southeast on the Florida Turnpike for the 390-mile leg to Key West. I decided I’d break the trip up into three legs of about 130 miles each and we were on the road a little before 8:00am. It was a beautiful morning with sunny skies, temps in the low-80’s and absolutely no traffic. It was definitely T-shirt weather and I opted to go with my ½ helmet while Debbie wore her modular / full-face: she made the right choice.
The ride down was great as we were pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable riding on the Turnpike was since we tend to prefer taking the roads less travelled since the scenery is usually much better. It turns out the Florida Turnpike was a very easy ride, we made great time and the scenery was a lot better than we expected. It was also great having the SunPass before we started the trip. The SunPass made traveling on Florida’s toll ways a breeze: spending money was never easier. Actually, it wasn’t all that expensive: $20 from Orlando to Homestead.
On this trip I also confirmed how traveling at freeway speeds on a hot day with a bright sun and a half helmet was anything but enjoyable for me. It was like staring into a blow dryer with a heat lamp cooking the left side of my face and a 70 mph wind blowing through my ears and rattling my brain. I couldn’t wait for the first leg-stretching break at 130-miles so I could ditch the ½ helmet and put on my modular / full-face. Seriously, it felt like time was standing still while I was getting beat up by the heat and wind noise. In fact, I blacked-out the GPS display so I didn’t have to suffer through the miles slowly turning over. However, once I had the full face on it only took me a few minutes to get acclimated to having the face shield down. It’s a little stuffy at times (the Shoei Syncrotec could have used better venting) but still cooler-feeling on my face on hot days like that. From that point all the way to Key Largo I was one very-happy-camper. The fatigue vanished, I could hear the music without having to run the volume up to compete with the wind noise and the miles started to fly by. We made a second splash & go stop just north of Homestead and were in the Keys by 10:30am. We were also on track to be at the No Name Pub on Big Pine Key by 2:00pm for lunch, and that was good news as well.
Once we made the transition to Route 1 at Homestead and entered the Keys the speeds dropped to the 60’s vs. the 80’s as the temperatures climbed into the 90’s. The law of diminishing returns caught up on the full-face helmets as we began to hit stoplights and found our heads cooking in the high-coverage helmets. Even flipping up the chin bar didn’t help. We made a short stop to put the helmets away and made the rest of the ride through the keys “topless” since Florida is nice enough to let motorcyclists decide when to accept the personal risks associated with choosing to wear or not wear a helmet. Debbie instantly became a happy camper now that the warm sun was shining on her head and face and we truly felt like we were in the home stretch. Well, sort of…. The 100 miles to Key West from Homestead takes nearly 3 hours given all of the aforementioned stop lights and congested two-lane roads you encounter going through the various Keys.
For those who’ve never made the road trip to Key West, there’s only a few bridges that take you over extended spans of water that truly make the Overseas Highway an over-the-seas highway with spectacular scenery. The rest of the time you could be riding through any other part of the Florida coast in terms of the scenery and traffic. The image below is the 7-mile bridge, actually it’s both the original (left) and new (right) 7-mile bridges looking from Big Pine Key at the west end toward the east at Marathon Key.
The No Name Pub stop was about a 6 mile detour out and back from Route 1 that was well worth the time and effort. We split a delicious ½ lb Yellow Tail tuna sandwich with dollar fries and about a gallon of water. Oh yeah, we were feeling the heat index + blow-dryer effect. But, it was a heck of a lot more comfortable making the ride behind Blue’s windscreen than it was on the windshield-less Dyna Wide Glide in April of 2013. After lunch we had just another 40 miles between us and the Cypress House in downtown Key West. Again, it’s not all that scenic driving through and between most of the keys so we were anxious to reach the end of our journey where we’d park Blue for the duration of our visit.
The Cypress House exceeded our expectations right from the moment we walked into the front office. The staff was as pleasant and attentive as could be, the historic home was very well maintained and furnished with what appeared to be former Hampton Inn furnishings vs. antiques… which was kind of nice. Although we were booked into a Queen room we were “upgraded” to a very nice King suite… located on the 3rd floor of the main house… which meant we got in our exercise traversing the 44 steps every time we left and returned to our room.
They also had a parking spot on the property where I could park Blue which was really nice.
After getting settled into our room we made our way the two short blocks to the corner of Caroline & Duval Streets where we had our first official cocktail in Key West at Flying Monkeys.
We did a little exploring along Duval Street and eventually made our way over to Red Fish Blue Fish where we split some Ahi Tuna and a Caesar salad for dinner at the bar. The next stop was Mallory Square for Sunset Celebration at 8:15pm and then it was back to the Cypress House to get freshened up for an evening of live music and dancing. All-in-all, a great day and first evening in Key West.
TUESDAY – THURSDAY
Our three full-days in Key West were all nearly carbon copies as our primary objective on this visit remained the same: it was all about spending time together and relaxing. We purposely avoided scheduling anything or even having a to-do list for the visit. We enjoyed sleeping-in (something we never do), having breakfast around 9:30am each morning and then started walking. I’d guess we walked at least 3-4 miles each day, going the full-length of Duval Street at least once a day.
Lunch found us at the Boat House on the first two days where we shared a blackened Mahi-Mahi on focaccia bread and a side salad. In the early afternoons we visited most of the classic pubs and bars in the Key West Historic District, i.e., Green Parrot, Capt. Tony’s, Sloppy Joes, Hog’s Breath, Smokin’ Tuna Saloon and a few others.
Around 2:00pm each day we’d head back to the Cypress House to shower-off the morning sweat and then relax for a few hours in our lovely, quiet and cool room. Every day around 4:30pm we’d head back down to Flying Monkeys for Debbie’s frozen Pina Colada and my frozen Margarita. Dinner on Tuesday had us sharing a plate of baked oysters and blackened swordfish with side Caesar salads at the Conch Republic. The baked oysters were amazing, as good as the Oyster Pub’s chargrilled ones in Daytona.
On Wednesday we actually skipped dinner after getting our fill of smoked tuna dip at the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon. In fact, it was so good that we went back to the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon for lunch on Thursday and split an amazing tuna melt & Caesar salad. Dinner on Thursday was more or less an oyster fest. We started off at Alonzo’s (part of A&B) as they had what sounded like tasty baked oyster recipes: Key Lime, Seaweed & Hot Wing. Yeah, well… they just didn’t rock our world. So, we went back to the Conch Republic for a serving of their baked oysters and they did not disappoint! As for the evenings, the hot spots for live music and dancing at the Gulf end of Duval Street are Sloppy Joes and Irish Kevin’s. The Green Parrot is also always rockin’. On two of the four nights in Key West we ended up having a very late-night visit to Angelino’s Pizza before calling it a night and heading back to the Cypress House.
In the shopping department, we were able to avoid major purchases which was good for us, but not so good for the Key West tourism trade. In talking with quite a few shop managers and the folks tending bars around Key West it sounds like “living and working in paradise” has gotten a lot harder for the little people over the past few years: tourist spending is down and the cost of living is going up from most accounts. Last October’s Fantasy Fest was purportedly a mere shadow of its former self and at least a couple bar tenders feel like Key West is trying to do what Vegas did by shifting the tourism trade towards a higher-end / family friendly theme vs. the gritty bar-hopping scene. A lot of the former historic district homes that were broken up into apartments or used as boarding houses over the years are being purchased and restored as single-family vacation homes that sit empty most of the year which has also driven up the cost of housing vis-a-via reduced supply. But, I digress…
Debbie found some cute dresses for Caroline, Charlotte and Vivian at “Key West Emotions”, a little shop across the street from the Green Parrot. I bought Debbie a really beautiful red dress that she just kept on for the walk back to the Cypress House. We also found a couple nice books about Key West in the shop, one was a photographic history and the other was about the ghosts of Key West. Both books have given us a few more insights into our little island paradise. Our final “commemorative” acquisition was a very cute Conch Republic Seafood Company tank top for Debbie that most folks will assume is an homage to the American flag with its white stars on a field of blue. However, that’s actually an homage to the Conch Republic flag… one that we proudly fly now and again at home.
The only pragmatic shopping we did was to pick up some SPF 50+ long-sleeve sun shirts for our ride to St. Augustine on Friday and the ride home on Sunday. While being very good about wearing my hat all the time and applying 50 SPF Bull Frog several times a day to keep from getting too much sun, it didn’t do anything to deal with the solar heating effects of the sun. So, fingers crossed, those will work out well for the 8-hour / 490-mile ride from Key West to St. Augustine that will pretty much have us out in the sun for all 8-hours: there ain’t no shade on Route 1, the Florida Turnpike or I95! I took it on a test run in Key West today around 2pm with temps hovering in the high 90’s and a heat index around 110. I still was sweating, but the fabric did a great job of wicking it away for a cooling effect and the white color did a nice job of reflecting the sun. Debbie shied away from the white tops and opted to go with a black one, so she may or may not fare all that well in the stop & go key traffic. We’ll see. On the bright side, there are lots of stores along the way that sell the white UV shirts!
I think it’s safe to say we achieved our primary goal for visit to Key West… and that was successfully doing nothing! In fact, that we’re sitting here on Thursday means we over-achieved as we were originally going to spend 3 nights in St. Augustine and decided to extend our Key West visit by an extra night/day. We spent a lot of time meeting folks and learning about how they ended up in Key West, both residents who work here as well as other tourists like us. It’s an amazing mix of people, but thankfully all of them have had a great disposition and those made for great discussions.
So, we’ll head out for a few hours on the town with a strict curfew of midnight since we’ll need to be up around 6:30am to make our 7:00am – 7:30am departure time. It will take me a good 30 minutes to get us packed and the bike loaded before we are ready to roll. We’re hoping that traffic heading out of the Key’s will be kind to us!!!